By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
The 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast may have been virtual due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but the spirit of Dr. King could be felt by anyone who watched the moving ceremony through computer screens.
The annual unity breakfast, which is usually held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) North Exhibition Hall was streamed live on livestream.com to comply with safe, social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the breakfast may have looked different, that did not stop hundreds of community members from tuning in to the breakfast which featured words from local and state leaders, essay contest winners, video presentations, songs, and a keynote address from Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL).
“In ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community’, Dr. King’s fourth and final book before his assassination, he put forth a daring challenge to the status quo and powers that be,” said Sewell. “As with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, and countless other times in our nation’s history, we once again find ourselves as a nation standing on a precipice . . . will our brothers and sisters come together to defend the dream Dr. King laid out for our nation so many years ago or will the vocal minority filled with hate and rage prevail?”
Sewell referred to the recent attacks and riot at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., where she and countless other members of Congress were forced to take cover in fear of their lives as pro-Trump supporters breached the Capitol.
“They carried weapons, zip ties to take hostages, Confederate flags and some wore clothes with anti-Semitic phrases. As I struggled to put on a gas mask and to duck for cover, afraid of the thunderous sound of impending violence on the floor of the House of Representatives, I could not help but weep for our nation,” she said. “To be sure, these past four years have been marked by chaos … Despite all of the chaos and violence of the past four years, I still believe in our country and in its people. I believe in the resilience of the American people and the power of its citizens to demand and achieve extraordinary change.”
Sewell said Birmingham, which was the focus of King’s 1963 Campaign, knows the strength of social movements to change hearts and minds and the nation must now resemble that same change.
“The slow and steady drumbeat of democracy starts with a single step as we continue to march forward toward a more perfect union,” said Sewell. “As a nation, we have done it before, and we must and will do it again. The story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us the power of individuals to work together to create extraordinary social change.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and state Rep. Juandalynn Givan also delivered remarks during the livestream event.
“Dr. King once so powerfully stated, ‘the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy, it is the hard times that test our character,’” said Woodfin.
The city faced hard times and adversity when bombs rang out across neighborhoods and churches and when firehoses and batons struck our communities but “… we faced every bit of that adversity and we won. It is that victory that defines us. It’s why we’re gathered here today,” he said.
Givan said while they may not have been in a big room with two to three thousand people like before, it is a blessing to still be here.
“For that, we ought to give God some thanks today,” she said. “We will not sit here quiet and somber because there are a lot of people, almost 400,000 people in the course of one year that if they had the opportunity to be sitting here, they would be grateful unto The Lord for all of the blessings, not just some of the blessings that He has bestowed upon us. Wherever you go or whoever you are… every now and then, you ought to stop and tell God thank you. We have something to be thankful for here today. Thank you for continuing Dr. King’s dream.”
Givan spoke of God’s grace.
“A grace that you can’t earn a Ph.D. or bachelor’s degree for, it’s an unmerited grace. I’m standing here today and I rise because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I rise because he had a dream, I rise today. I rise in this defining moment because 35 words were one day written by the founders of the Declaration of Independence. These were simple words, word that Dr. King believed in… ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”